Business Today

Fitting in as a fresher

Across India Inc., employee attrition is the highest for those at the entry level, and within the first year. Landing a job is tough, fitting in can be tougher.

Saumya Bhattacharya        Print Edition: July 25, 2010

No business degree could have prepared Sagar Jain, 27, for what he encountered a few days into his job as a management trainee with PepsiCo India, the beverages and snacks major. On a scorching June afternoon in Faridabad, Haryana, a company retailer of many years was refusing to take anymore packets of PepsiCo snacks Lay's and Kurkure. Reason? The retailer's current lot had been damaged by rats. He was adamant that PepsiCo take back the damaged packets before giving him fresh stocks.

Jain's MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, had not trained him for rodentcreated situations. So, he fell back on company policy, which ruled out accepting such returns. "Half an hour of explaining the policy and I was still stuck," recalls Jain. Then, the seasoned area manager under whom Jain was working as part of his induction stepped in.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

  • Learn the ropes of your role. Competence is the best route.
  • Be a team player. Collaboration matters more than brilliance.
  • Ask questions - even at the cost of sounding silly.
  • Look for a senior who can mentor you informally.
  • Don't be in a hurry to network. First establish yourself.
"Look," he told the retailer, "take the fresh stocks and you can recover your loss." Says Jain: "I wasn't looking beyond the policy, but the area manager sorted out the issue with common sense." Like Jain, thousands of new hires at Indian companies are faced with curious problems. Right out of the campuses, they face new situations in their jobs every day and are in a hurry to make a mark.

There is even a term for this: expectation mismatch. Across India Inc., employee attrition is the highest for those at the entry level, and within the first year. "For instance, among the frontline insurance firms, attrition is alarming. Some of the companies are replacing almost the entire organisation every year," says Pankaj Bansal, CEO, PeopleStrong, a human resources (HR) consultancy.

Business process outsourcing or BPO is another sector where attrition is high. But here the bigger problem is finding the right talent, Bansal adds. Six years ago, Genpact, a leading BPO firm, decided to investigate why people leave. The answer boiled down to expectation mismatch. For new hires, it's crucial to know what is expected from them in terms of their work and soft skills. You can start even before you arrive at work. Stay up to date on the sector, the company you will work for, and its competitors. All this will help you understand decisions taken by your company.

Amitabh Chatterjee, 23, is a Process Associate with Genpact in Gurgaon. With the help of Genpact's pre-hire process, Chatterjee knows exactly what he is in for. When he was selected as a potential hire, the first thing Genpact did was to call him up and "de-sell" the company by getting him to see the pluses and minuses of his job. Chatterjee seemed okay with his role.

"But close to 15 per cent potential hires drop at this stage," says Indira Sovakar, Genpact's Vice President of HR. Sovakar has simple advice for new hires: If you're not completely sure about something, ask. To this end companies such as Genpact, Maruti Suzuki and PepsiCo India handhold the new hires for a few months through what they call a buddy system.

Many organisations are using outbound training camps to make their new employees understand the power of collaboration. Take LG Electronics India. The consumer durable major is putting 75 management and 50 technology graduates through their first steps in the corporate world. Tina Ramnath, 24, a management trainee, is confident about her role after a seven-day base camp in the Himalayas. Ramnath says she couldn't have expected a better start. "We had to survive in tough conditions with our team. That helped break the ice with my peers," she says.

If you are a new employee, pay heed to what Y.V. Verma, LG's Chief Operating Officer, has to say: "To make your mark, it's important to know how to work in a team." Team work is one quality that is valued across industries, especially when campus hires adjust to the workplace. "At PepsiCo India, collaboration is a part of our leadership competency," says Pavan Bhatia, Vice President, HR. PepsiCo has an intensive one-year induction process across functions and levels of business.

"The first thing we do is tell our new hires - 15 management trainees currently - the vision of the company and what their career growth in PepsiCo is all about," says Bhatia. Once these trainees complete their induction, each will have a pyramid of 50 people working under them. "The challenge is how to make these 50 people look in the same direction," says Bhatia.

S.Y. Siddiqui, Managing Executive Officer for Administration, looking after HR, finance and information technology (IT) at Maruti Suzuki, India's largest carmaker, suggests a three-pronged strategy. "Have reasonable functional knowledge, cultivate the capability to think, analyse and adapt, and learn to work in a team," he says. At Maruti Suzuki, the attrition rate is 12 per cent for management graduates and 10 per cent for technology hires. The company has a year-long induction with outbound training, buddies and mentors thrown in. Maruti has hired 210 graduate engineers, 20 management trainees and 15 executive trainees this year.

At companies such as Microsoft, innovation will keep you ahead of the curve. Joji Gill, Director, HR, says Microsoft hires people for aptitude and attitude. "We do not hire just for the IT skills. We select candidates that have a high aptitude for innovation," she says.

And if you are in a hurry to network and be visible in the organisation, wait for a few months. Says Vijay Srivastava, VP, HR at UnitedLex, a legal process outsourcing firm: "It matters to be visible, but wait for six months. That's the time when you have settled down in your work." UnitedLex has 350 employees and hired 50 freshers this year.

The good news for the new hires is that India Inc. understands the changing face of GenNow and is tweaking its work cultures to assimilate the new generation.

According to Padmaja Alaganandan, India Business Leader of Human Capital Business at Mercer India, an HR consultancy, research shows the new workforce is driven by four needs: To acquire recognition and prestige, to bond, to comprehend and seek knowledge, and to defend themselves.

"The drives vary in individuals. But, in GenNow, the most prominent drive is to acquire immediate tangible and intangible rewards," she explains. Drives to bond and comprehend come next. "This generation likes to seek novelty, push frontiers and they seek to be trusted," adds Alaganandan.

And, yes, in your drive to get going in your first job, be realistic about what you can accomplish.

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